One of the toughest experiences a man or woman has to endure is overcoming the trauma of being sexually assaulted. Imagine what it must feel like as a child? While for some, it’s difficult to fathom a minor having to suffer at the hands of a predatory adult, it is an unfortunate reality for more young people that we may care to admit.
In this SheHub exclusive, in partnership with #MeTooBermuda, a young mother shares her torment as a victim of sexual abuse, which began when she was just six years old and lasted for five years at the hands of a family friend. Thankfully he was brought to justice and sentenced to time behind bars, but over a decade later she is still fighting for peace.
Here is her story….
“From the ages of six and 11, I was sexually assaulted by a close family friend. My mom and him were very close and he is the godfather of one of my siblings. The first incident that I can remember, I was laying down and he made me get up and take my pajama pants off. He climbed into the bed with me while my brother slept on the floor. Although I was so young, I knew that him rubbing my chest wasn’t right. I told him that I was going to tell but he reassured that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
Jess (not her real name), now in her 20s, says he repeated his actions so many times that in order to cope, she started to mentally shut down: “There’s so much of my childhood that I really don’t remember, but major incidents are the ones that still haunt me to this day.”
She continues to reflect on the assaults: “There were times when I would fall asleep and wake up with no underwear on and I would bawl my eyes out because I knew it happened again, but I refused to say anything out of fear because he told me he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
“One of the incidents which I will never forget is when he took me and my siblings swimming at Police Beach. We were in the water and while he was holding his daughter, he grabbed me by my swimsuit bottoms as I was trying to swim away. Despite me struggling with him, he got them off me. He took them and threw them out as far as he could and told me to dive under and go get them.”
Jess says she called out to her brother and her cousin to help her.
“They were so upset. I remember my cousin bringing me a towel and wrapping it around me in the water. My assailant called my mother and told her that I was being rude because I refused to retrieve my bottoms in the water and got dressed instead.
“His way of punishing me was to leave me at my nana’s while he took the boys to get ice cream. When they came back, they suddenly had amnesia and said they couldn’t remember what I was talking about at the beach, but it wasn’t until I kicked and screamed that my cousin told my family he was bribed with ice cream to not tell what had really happened. I think that was the moment everyone really digested that I wasn’t lying.”
Despite the accusations surrounding the man, Jess says he continued to have a steady presence in her home, and he showed her no mercy.
“Whenever he was around, I was not myself. I immediately knew that I wasn’t safe and that I was going to be in pain. I knew I was going to be tortured and teased by my siblings because of him. He always singled me out and isolated me and I honestly wanted to die.
“Even sometimes now when I have my moments of deep depression, I still think that I would be better off dead because then I will no longer be that ‘victim’ and maybe the terror of it will go away. Thankfully, I’m at the point in life now where I don’t believe I’d ever act on it because I’ve built a wall of love and protection around me.”
Jess’ voice breaks as she recalls another time when her brother had no choice but to believe that she was being assaulted.
“We only had one bathroom in the house, and it was in me and my brother’s room. My assailant would often come in there saying that he had to use the bathroom, but he would use it as an excuse to assault me. I would wake up some nights and he would be touching me, but he would be crouched down so that my brother, who slept on the other side of the bed, wouldn’t see him.
“I told my brother about it and one night asked him to switch sides with me to see what would happen. He agreed. That night, my assailant came into our room and reached under the covers and started to rub my leg, except it wasn’t me, it was my brother. When he felt testicles, he ran out.”
Jess says she felt relieved when it happened because now she knew for sure that her brother believed her. She says he was very angry at his godfather.
But still, he was allowed to care for her and her siblings while her mother worked. However, she says, things finally came to a head when her assailant ended up working at her middle school as a security officer.
“I would keep my distance from him. I hated him. I told him that I would kill him if he ever came near me.”
One day, she says, she wasn’t feeling well and had to be escorted to health cubicles, which were outdoors. Her assailant offered to take her and she refused. She asked for any other officer but him. When her pleas were ignored she says she lashed out—and it was then when a senior administrator at the school realised that there was more than what met the eye. Her aunt ended up telling the school that he had sexually molested Jess as a young girl.
Finally, in 2013, he was brought before the courts and subsequently found guilty. Jess, who was 19 at the time, testified. She asked her mother and close relatives not to attend the proceedings because she didn’t want them to know the full extent of her ordeal. Her brother and aunt also testified in the hearing.
“Even when I was on the stand, he was laughing at me and saying that I was lying,” she tells SheHub.
Seven years after her assailant’s conviction, Jess says that she is still deeply affected by what happened to her.
“I am dealing with PTSD, anxiety, depression and sometimes I am very overprotective of my children. I don’t trust anyone around them. I don’t easily see people as genuine because I fear that they are lying and have a constant thought in my head that someone in the future is going to continue the pattern and victimise one of my children.
“I have sudden spurts of anxiety due to different scents or trigger words can immediately cause me to zone out and feel a sense of unease or danger. I have nightmares and I wake up crying or panicking thinking I’ve been assaulted again. It has also affected my relationships because I constantly think people are only here to hurt me and I have a lot of self-doubt at times where I question my worth and why anyone could love me. Most times, I keep it all in because after going through it for so long without talking, I find comfort coaching myself to keep pushing on instead of confiding in someone else.
“I have my moments but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be. I’m at the place where I can talk about it and not cry. I can bounce back a lot faster from a moment than before. The hardest thing is the dreams because I’d wake up feeling tormented and refuse to go back sleep and be out of it the next day.”
Jess admits that sometimes she can be overbearing as a parent: “I refuse to let my children attend sleepovers. Because of my lack of trust, I don’t ever see me allowing that to happen. I constantly think I have to be on guard with them because someone can hurt them. I feel like I have to have open communication with them at all times. I ask them several questions and I can sometimes be too inquisitive. I can tell it frustrates them but I don’t want to miss the opportunity ever where I could have prevented something.”
Reflecting on her own parents, Jess admits she carries mixed emotions.
“I told my father what was happening to me and he didn’t do anything. I thought as my father, my protector, he would have. He ended up going to jail and when he was released, he wanted to talk about everything but I was mad and refused. I felt it was too late. I still carry a lot of anger towards him and at this point, I don’t think that our relationship can be repaired.
“I love my mother dearly and while my assailant was her friend, I don’t think that she had a choice but to leave us with him because she was a single mom who had to work to support us on her own. I don’t carry any anger towards her and I don’t blame her for what happened to me.”
Jess says despite her being sexually molested at such a tender age, she wrestled with whether what happened to her was somehow because of something she did wrong.
“I constantly thought it was my fault growing up. In my head, I think that was what made me stay quiet for so long. My mom worked so hard to provide for me and I felt if I ever said anything she would tell me I was being fast.”
“I once asked my assailant, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and he responded because I told him to and he wasn’t doing anything wrong because he told me he was keen. His answer replayed over and over in my head for years and to today, I still question what did that mean.”
And she offers this to other victims who may feel that they were at fault: “That is a normal feeling. That is the most important thing to me that a victim needs to understand. We all have that self-blame moment! It’s always a question of, ‘If I didn’t do this then…’ and it’s absolutely normal! But talk to someone. It took for someone to tell me that after years and years of keeping it to myself for me to grasp fully that it wasn’t.”
Determined to heal from her experience, Jess says attending counselling sessions has helped her a lot: “I actually started my counselling a few months before my case came to court. I can honestly say it was the best thing that happened to me. It began my healing process and opened up my eyes to the things that I was accepting at that time because I was still in the mindset of a victim.
“To this day, I keep in contact with the counsellor and have an abundance of love for her. She also was the only person I allowed into court. After testifying, I had a complete breakdown and she took me back to her office and built me back up with minimal words. She was a blessing!”
As she reflects on everything that she has endured, Jess says she is now committed to living to the fullest, despite the memories that will always haunt her.
“I truly believe that I am at the closest point of healing that a victim can be. I don’t see there ever being a moment where it’s never a lingering thought that could pop up or a scent can’t take me back to my horrors. They’re still certain places in Bermuda that I avoid because I don’t want to be in that space and that’s just how I choose to deal with it.”